5-4-3 rule

The 5-4-3 rule also referred to as the IEEE way (contrary to the Ethernet way) is a design guideline for Ethernet computer networks covering the number of repeaters and segments on shared-access Ethernet backbones in a tree topology.[1][2] It means that in a collision domain there should be at most 5 segments tied together with 4 repeaters, with 3 segments containing active senders (i.e. terminals).

This rule is also designated the 5-4-3-2-1 rule with there being two network segments and one collision domain.[3]

The 5-4-3 rule was created when 10BASE5, 10BASE2 and FOIRL were the only types of Ethernet network available. The rule only applies to shared-access 10 Mbit/s Ethernet segments connected by repeaters or repeater hubs (collisions domains) and FOIRL links. The rule does not apply to switched Ethernet because each port on a switch constitutes a separate collision domain. With mixed repeated and switched networks, the rule's scope ends on a switched port.


Collision detection

According to the original Ethernet protocol, a signal sent out over the collision domain must reach every part of the network within a specified length of time. The 5-4-3 rule ensures this. Each segment and repeater that a signal goes through adds a small amount of time to the process, so the rule is designed to minimize transmission times of the signals.

For the purposes of this rule, a segment is in accordance with the IEEE definition: an electrical connection between networked devices.[4]

In the original 10BASE5 and 10BASE2 Ethernet varieties, a segment would therefore correspond to a single coax cable and any devices tapped into it. On modern twisted-pair Ethernet, a network segment corresponds to the individual connection between end station to network equipment or the connections between different pieces of network equipment.

This rule divides a collision domain into two types of physical segments: populated (user) segments, and unpopulated (link) segments. User segments have users' systems connected to them. Link segments are used to connect the network's repeaters together. The rule mandates that there can only be a maximum of five segments, connected through four repeaters, or concentrators, and only three of the five segments may contain user connections. This last requirement applies only to 10BASE5 and 10BASE2 Ethernet segments.[5]

Preamble consumption

In addition to the necessity of reliable collision detection, a frame cannot be repeated too many times. A repeater normally listens for the 0101 preamble and then locks onto the bit stream. Once locked on, it would then repeat each bit out the other port(s). However, a number of bits would be consumed at the start while the repeater was locking onto the bit stream.[6] As the frame propagated through each repeater the preamble would get shorter and shorter. Too many bits lost meant that an end node may not have enough preamble bits to lock on and the entire frame would be missed.

Various repeaters (hubs) may use slightly different implementations and operate differently. Each repeater would lose more or less bits while locking on, some could lose as many as 5 or 6 bits. You could create a network with more repeaters if you made sure the total number of lost preamble bits wouldn't exceed the requirements of the receiving hardware and collisions would not pose a problem. Usually this detailed information is not easy to obtain and difficult for users to calculate. The standard requires generation of sufficient preamble bits to make sure a frame can be received when operated within specification limits (i.e. applying the 5-4-3 rule).

In a lab at DEC they knew how many bits their repeaters would lose and knowing this were able to create an 11 segment, 10 repeater, 3 active segment (11-10-3) network that maintained a round trip delay of less than 51.2 µs and a sufficient number of preamble bits that all end nodes functioned properly.

Ethernet way

An alternate configuration rule known as the Ethernet way allows 2 repeaters on the single network and does not allow any hosts on the connection between repeaters.

See also


  1. "IEEE 802.3-2012 13. System considerations for multisegment 10 Mb/s baseband networks". IEEE 802.3. 2012-12-08. Retrieved 2015-11-15.
  2. Helmig, Johannes (28 October 1997). "Large Networks: 5-4-3 Rule". WindowsNetworking.com. Archived from the original on 3 September 2010.
  3. Mitchell, Bradley. "The 5-4-3-2-1 Rule". About.com. Archived from the original on 3 September 2010.
  4. "1.4.318", 802.3-2008 Part 3: Carrier sense multiple access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) Access Method and Physical Layer Specifications, IEEE, 26 December 2008, segment: The medium connection, including connectors, between Medium Dependent Interfaces (MDIs) in a CSMA/CD local area network.
  5. An Educator's Guide to School Networks, Florida Center for Instructional Technology, retrieved 4 September 2010
  6. IEEE 802.3-2003 section "Preamble"
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